The iPhone 5: Is It Boring or the “Next Big Thing”?


If you do not live under a rock, you know that the iPhone 5 has arrived and that it is thinner, lighter, larger and faster than its predecessor.

And if you, just like me, belong to the growing crowd of nerdy tech-blog followers, you have known this for quite a while. The fact that iOS 6’s new features had already been introduced during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this summer, in combination with the wave of leaks, took a bit of the fun out of the announcement.

In addition, at first glance it seems that the innovation that the iPhone 5 brings is rather incremental.  Wired‘s Mat Honan argues that it is a boring device and Forbes thinks that the iPhone 5 is not “the next truly big thing“. There is, however, an interesting nuance that seems to go largely unnoticed and the number “Five” might mean more than one assumes. Here is what caught my attention:

The Incremental Improvements

  • The screen: The “biggest thing” about the iPhone 5 is obviously its larger display, using in-cell touch screen for better color accuracy and saturation, and a thinner form factor. While the new aspect ratio is very close to the 16:9 HD standard and thus better suited for the consumption of media, app developers are probably in frantic update mode as I am writing these lines…
  • From 30 to 8 pins: The original 30-pin dock connector had a great run of 10 years, but it was time for a change. In an industry where slimness is a key advantage, the size of the dock connector became an obstacle for slimmer products. Apple’s move to provide two types of adapters will salvage the millions of accessories already on the market, even though David Pogue expects some “grumpiness in iPhoneland” and wishes that these adapters came free with the purchase of an iPhone 5. The additional costs will certainly be a consideration for “upgraders” that own multiple accessories…
  • 4G: After most of its competition features LTE for quite a while already, the faster wireless standard finally arrived on the iPhone and it comes along with a smaller “nano-SIM” card. If you travel intercontinentally on a regular basis and want to get “the 5″, you’re up for a tricky purchase decision, though, as there are three region-specific devices available… I for one am holding off with my order until unlocked devices become available in the U.S.
  • Camera: Being the photography geek that I am, I was interested in seeing how Apple would improve what is the most popular camera on flickr. Except for the scratch-resistant sapphire glass, the hardware seemed unchanged and it looked like improvements were made only with the inclusion of a panorama mode and better low-light performance. DPReview has, however, found that Apple is also using an updated image sensor that is slightly larger and improves on the minimum light sensitivity. Altogether, this seems to offer an all-around better experience of the industry-leading feature.
  • 600 people to test and develop the EarPods: To me – and to many other users that gave the iconic white earphones a measly 2.5 star rating in the Apple Store – the redesigned EarPods are merely righting a wrong.  They never really did fit or sound too great and I hope that all that testing, did bear fruit – pun intended.

Five: What’s In The Name?

Apart from these “boring” improvements to the class leader, ASYMCO’s industry analyst Horace Dediu was quick to point out that the iPhone 5’s name holds an important clue as to how Apple views its halo-product. Prior to the event invitation that revealed the product’s name, there had been speculations on whether Apple would move away from a number-based naming for the iPhone.

After changing the iPad naming to the brand-subbrand scheme (iPad 2 vs. “the new” iPad) that the rest of Apple’s hardware follows (e.g. “MacBook Pro” and “MacBook Air”, “iPod Touch” and “iPod nano”), the iPhone is now the sole hardware product in Apple’s line-up that still bears a number in its name and this means two things:

  1. There will not be an iPhone “nano” or “mini,” and tiering the product line will continue to be achieved through several generations of the product being sold at the same time. Currently these are the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.
  2. More interestingly, the nomenclature could indicate that Apple sees the iPhone more as a platform, much like its operating systems iOS6 or OS10.6. The platform could play host to an increasing portfolio of software and services, like Siri.

This could be a disruptive shift, creating new interesting opportunities for the iPhone and even more so for its users. Here are four hypotheses of what could lie ahead for the iPhone:

  • Apple Maps could see extensions with Apple-proprietary or third-party location-based services and augmented reality.
  • Apple’s Passbook service could develop closer ties with e-commerce websites and other forms of payment to become a true digital wallet.
  • With the addition of sensors and wearable technology, Apple could develop the iPhone platform into the leading hub for Digital Health & Wellness.
  • Along the same lines, the iPhone could become the gateway into that elusive Internet of Things, and connect not only to the personal computer and TV, but to pretty much everything one owns.

With these – and many more – potential additions to the platform, I do not think that the iPhone 5 is boring at all and while it may not be “the truly next big thing” itself, it might well be what the next big thing for Apple will be built upon.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Speaking at 6sight

Posted on Jul 2, 2012 in Conferences, Speaking

I was speaking at PMA’s 6sight conference, where I participated in a panel on the future of digital image capture… I had a blast speaking with and listening to industry experts, learned quite a bit and also had a good time away from the conference venue… New York always makes for a great experience!

Artefact Camera Futura wins I.D. Best of Show Award

Posted on Jan 27, 2012 in Awards, Industrial Design, Interaction Design


I am really proud of this one: Camera Futura has been selected for the “Best of Show Award” at the 2012 I.D. Annual Design Review.

In the Artefact Studio Space

Posted on Jan 23, 2012 in Career
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I took a few shots in the office in recent months* and thought I’d post them here… enjoy!

* The team photo was taken by Tucker

India

Posted on Nov 8, 2011 in Career, Travel

For the second time in my career, I am taking a two-month sabbatical, this time in India, where my wife Evelyn has been working since January for the organization NEEDS in Deoghar.

This is my third trip to India, with the first one being the archetypical tourist-trip from Delhi, via Agra through the state of Rajasthan and its famous cities. I also visited the country a few months ago this spring – also to visit Evelyn.

This time around, I spent a few days in Kolkata during Durga Puja, before staying two weeks in Deoghar to experience life in Northeastern India. Originally, I planned to conduct a design project there, but found that the time was just too short to do something truly meaningful, so that I ended up “designing my time in Deoghar” and spending it on some  personal projects and helping out with smaller aspects of NEEDS’ work and in their education program.

Evelyn and I finished off the trip with a little holiday in the opposite corner of the most colorful country of the world and traveled through the Southwestern state of Kerala, where we visited the coastal towns of Varkala, Kollam, Alleppey, and Cochin and the Periyar Wildlife Reservoir upcountry.

Panasonic Avionics FlightPath wins the Silver German Design Award

Posted on Sep 26, 2011 in Awards, Interaction Design


I have been part of the team that won the Silver German Design Award for a collaboration between Carbon Design, Artefact and Panasonic… very proud of the FlightPath project – and it was a fun one, too!

On top of it all, I was the lucky one to travel to my hometown Frankfurt and pick up the trophy…

Googlerola

Posted on Aug 18, 2011 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research, Trends


Since Monday’s announcement of Google’s multi-billion-dollar acquisition of Motorola, the media has been buzzing on what is the largest deal in Google’s history. While Google continues to reiterate that it is a protective move that allows using Moto’s patents to protect its Android OS from anti-competitive threats, it is fascinating to speculate about the fate of all players involved. So what might be next for “Googlerola”, for its partners and competitors, for Android and – last but not least – for the consumer?

Reading the media reaction to Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, it becomes clear that the move is not solely “defensive” as Google’s PR machine is trying to suggest. Sure, after losing the 6,000+ Nortel-patents to the Apple-Microsoft-led consortium just a little over a month ago, Motorola’s intellectual property of some 17,000 patents comes as a welcome infusion for Android, but more importantly Googlerola will now be able to build truly market-leading mobile devices that finally deliver a fully integrated Android hardware and software experience.

While it might be too early to sell your Google shares, not all is good in Mountain View: Google has just increased its workforce from 30,000 to 50,000 employees and has acquired 90+ low-margin hardware factories in an information-centric world that it dominates.

More importantly, beyond the mere numbers, it will be challenging for the search-giant to cope with the obvious looming cultural clash that might in the end tip the scales.

Android Partners and Competitors

Upon acquisition of Android, Google founded the Open Handset Alliance – “a consortium of 80 hardware, software, and telecommunication companies” (Wikipedia), the most important device manufacturers of which certainly have reason to feel threatened by Googlerola. The suspiciouslyuniform partner responses seem to spell trouble:

 “We welcome today’s news, which demonstrates Googles deep commitment to defending Android, its partners, and the ecosystem.”
JK Shin, President, Samsung Mobile

“We welcome the news of today’s acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem.”
Peter Chou, CEO, HTC

“I welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.”
Bert Nordberg, CEO, Sony Ericsson

“We welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.”
Jong-Seok Park, CEO, LG Mobile

Even before the news broke, Nokia’s stance against Android (and for Windows Phone), HP’s attempt at reviving Palm’s WebOS and Samsung’s move to create their own “Bada” OS late last year raised quite a few eyebrows.

While Nokia yet has to deliver a Windows Phone product, the Finnish market leader detailedaspects of their plans for the platform today. Samsung has shipped an estimated quarter of its 20 million smartphone shipments in Q2 powered by Bada (with a year-by-year growth rate of 355%!). Furthermore, two days after Google’s big shopping spree, Samsung’s chairman Lee Kun-hee demands from its company to “enhance its software prowess”. Wow!

So now that Samsung is showing that it can work and others are in the midst of trying, what keeps the LG’s and HTC’s and Sony Ericsson’s from attempting the same – especially now that Google has turned into a full-fledged competitor?

And what about Microsoft? As of today, they are the sole provider of a mobile operating system that does not come with integrated hardware and will have to figure out how to play in the mobile space once again. Maybe it’s time to produce some Redmond-designed phones?

The previously stale mobile phone market is suddenly fresh and exciting again and I expect the players to reevaluate their strategies and to react to the changed situation with enthusiastic new plans.

The Android Platform

I am wondering what the move means for Android as a market-leading platform that seems to dominate with “quantity” rather than “quality” (think: number of features, manufacturers, carriers, handsets).

Not even three years after the release of HTC’s “Dream”, Android feels more bloated and obese than Windows ever managed to become (“Longhorns” never were the most nimble of animals).

Android is extremely fragmented and doesn’t allow for much differentiation between Google’s partners (read: competitors), unless they inflate customize their flavor of the operating system even more.

There is certainly some word of caution in historic attempts to integrate hardware and software in this arena: Steve Jobs stopped the “Apple Clone” program after his return to Cupertino at the end of the 90′s, Microsoft never built their own laptops and Nokia’s acquisition of Symbian marked the beginning of the demise of that operating system. According to asymco’s Horace Dediu, “This is classic channel conflict and never ends well.”

Android will certainly not fade away, and it will probably not lose its market leading position either. However, the acquisition might however strengthen some competitors and will spark others to appear in the arena.

The Consumer

So what’s in it for us? Gizmodo is quick to point out “Samsung, HTC, et al, are going to need another avenue of attack, since Motorola branded products are going to theoretically have a major advantage”.

All these possible “avenues” are what will make Google’s acquisition of Motorola so interesting in the coming months and I strongly believe that the event will act as a catalyst in the development of a multitude of new and improved mobile products.

Paraphrasing JK Shin, Peter Chou, Bert Nordberg and Jong-Seok Park “I welcome the news” and hope that in the end the consumer will win.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Speak no WVIL

Posted on Jun 12, 2011 in Media

After all the dust around our Camera Futura concept seems to have settled, I took a look back at some of the hundreds of articles that were written about it. The publicity didn’t start all too well, with our little “rogue” CES video being at first considered it a hoax by some. Engadget spoke of it being “unbelievably fake” and called our initial video a “pathetic viral campaign”… we’d probably take a different route the next time around.

Still, after we posted a video vignette, describing the product’s user experience and after ReadWrite picked up on the design, the media started to focus more (pun intended) on the concept, rather than the way we first introduced it. ReadWrite’s Richard MacManus wrote the following:

As we increasingly rely on our smartphones to take photographs, wouldn’t it be great if there was a lens that could easily be added to their smart phone. That’s exactly what this camera concept aims to achieve. The Wireless Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens is an idea that would allow users to easily attach or remove a professional lens to almost any device.

My favorite article about Camera Futura was written by Wired‘s Bruce Sterling, who said:

There’s something really contemporary and even beautiful about the way this provocative “concept camera” is packaged and rolled out. First, there’s the way cameras are re-imagined “after the death of cameras” — actually, they’re imagined as if there had never been any cameras, as if cameras had always been component-based platforms and operating systems mashed-up through APIs.
And then the article itself, or the WVIL provocation, behaves as if there had never been camera companies. No economies of scale, no mass-production muscle… just an atelier shaping the tech conversation while vaguely threatening to find a production method somewhere-or-other. It’s a provocation, but it’s also a disruption. There’s something very of-the-moment about this. It’s like the camera-biz equivalent of BitCoin.

Here is what other media outlets wrote:

When can we buy one? (Please excuse the drool as I type this.)

John Pavlus, FastCo Design

Oh how I wish the 31 megapixel, full frame sensor Camera Futura camera phone were real.

Scott Hansen, ISO50

This is one of the most beautiful and innovative concepts you’ll have seen in a long time, and acts upon something I’ve always wondered about—why can’t manufacturers just add cellphone guts to a camera?

Kat Hannaford, Gizmodo

Artefact has created a concept camera for the smartphone age

Jonathan Eger, Photo Weekly Online

Artefact have imagined a new camera that fits portability, flexibility and quality requirements.

Bless This Stuff

Cameras Connect

Posted on Mar 14, 2011 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research, Trends


Wireless LAN, Bluetooth, GPS, compasses and other receivers are a given with mobile phones – these components not only help to interconnect different devices and untether the overall use experience, they also connect users to each other through the use of social media. Users will demand for this experience to transcend beyond the realm of their mobile phones. While the traditional camera model has been simply to capture images, post-processing, sharing, and other activities will find their way into digital cameras.

The full report shows you how mobile connected services centered on photos are growing, early designs for new camera connectivity that will soon be commonplace like WiFi, GPS, and battery charging, and new device relationships allowing remote control.

Cameras Connect

Rich with examples, all Artefact Reports also include conclusions about business opportunities and exercises you can use to understand how this trend may affect your products and services.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.